Susan: Healing my Body with Pilates

Pilates without the Pilates Studio...

The first week after my surgery was spent in the ICU.  I needed a lot of pain control back then and they were more than happy to accommodate me. In my narcotic stupor I clearly remember having a conversation with my body.   I thanked my body for taking such good care of me for so long.  I apologized to my body for not knowing how hard it had to work to keep my tumor at bay for so many years.  And I told my body I was grateful that it had waited till then to let the tumor win out.  I was in the best physical, emotional and spiritual health of my life to handle this devastation.  (For your understanding the medical term for the mass within my spinal cord is a "cavernoma".  It was essentially a ganglia of capillaries.  For purposes of this Blog, I will call it a "tumor".)

I didn't realize it at first but they had a camera on me all of the time in the ICU!  So the one day, my nurse came in and commented on the exercises I was doing in bed with my arms and upper body...I was trying to do some modified Rowing:).  I couldn't sit up or stand up or move my legs but I could use my arms and Rowing seemed to be my best choice!  That was the extent of my exercising in the hospital until I got to Good Sheperd two weeks later. 

The first thing my Good Sheperd therapist did with me was an assessment.  It was scary, humbling and painful.  The ONLY thing I could access below my breastbone were some highly compromised abdominal muscles.  My pelvis was so numb that sitting up felt like I was perched on a rock.  I looked like I was 7 months pregnant and movement in my torso was almost non-existent.  I was fully numb from the upper legs to the toes.  My physical therapist, Julie, sat me up on the edge of a raised mat and tested my core strength by trying to push me from one side to the other asking me to stabilize using any muscles that I could find.  No hands...I could do it...I found some abs somehow!  Pilates had not totally left me.  She was impressed which made me feel great. She wanted to know if I had worked out a lot before my surgery.  So I told her-about Pilates-about my teaching and being taught.  From then on everyone knew me as the Pilates Instructor. 

My progress was painfully slow.  One week after I arrived at Good Sheperd Julie stood me up at the parallel bars. I could not feel my feet on the ground.  She put a full length mirror in front of me so that I could see that I was standing on the ground.  She told me that I was ready to take some steps.  I told her no way!  I was terrified.  We went back and forth for a minute or so until she finally asked me if I was ready.  Reluctantly I shook my head yes.  Trust me, there were no thoughts of Pilates as I tried this!  No doubt I held my breath as I tried to move one foot then the other forward gripping the bars for support.  I took three steps with each foot and then collapsed in the wheelchair.  I hung my head in my hands and cried.  The other patients in the therapy room clapped and yelled "Bravo".  It was my birthday and I had given myself the best present I could have ever received!  When I got back to my room I called Kevin and Lauren, my mom, Tom...every single one of them cried along with me!

From that moment on I began to use the walker in therapy.  Julie would hold onto me as I walked and I would talk to myself...'in and up with my belly; am I centered over my hips; am I slumped; how are my shoulders; breathe"! There was not one piece of it that was automatic.  They would chuckle because I would say what they were about to say.  And If I missed the correction, Kevin, my son, was right there to let me know what needed to be fixed!  Pilates by osmosis.  He was on it!

I loved to ride the bike.  My legs felt energized and I could sit and not stand to do it!  Even riding the bike was a Pilates experience!  I would watch my right knee roll inward as I pedaled...."Have got to fix that", I would tell Kevin.  "Out of alignment."  I kept thinking it...unfortunately it was many weeks before I could actually control that knee.

Speaking from my heart, I must tell you that it was incredibly devastating.  Every little movement was exhausting.  So many movements were unreachable.  One day not long after I got to Good Sheperd I was leaving the cafeteria in my wheelchair and I decided that I wanted to bring an apple back to my room.  I had to place it in my lap to bring it back since I needed my hands to wheel myself back to my room.  When I got about 30ft. from my room the apple fell out of my lap.  No one else was in the hallway.  I looked down at it on the floor and was totally helpless.  I could not even bend down to pick it up.  I left it there- I didn't ring for anyone to pick it up for me.  I was so angry I just left it sitting in the middle of the hallway.  I wheeled back to my room and cried.  So many things had been taken away from me.  I was overwhelmed by the road in front of me.  Working on the Cadillac or Reformer was unimaginable back then and I would only allow myself to think about it for a second.  It was too terrifying and depressing.  I went into emotional lockdown.  I was in a war and every day was a battle.  

Thankfully now I use the Reformer and Cadillac.  My body knows "the work". It understands and longs for the balance of lengthening and contracting.  Next week I will tell you what I am doing and I will show you some modified Pilates exercises I am trying.  None of it is easy.  I am still quite compromised but I am gaining strength and coordination each day.   

I thank you for reading my story.  Each entry helps me to heal just a little bit more!

Sending you love and gratitude, Susan

"The irony is that we attempt to disown our difficult stories to appear more whole or more acceptable, but our wholeness-even our wholeheartedness- actually depends on the integration of all of our experiences, including the falls." ~Brene Brown, Rising Strong